Mary Moody Northen Theatre's Violet
In this moving production, a young woman learns the nature of true beauty and true love
Reviewed by T. Lynn Mikeska, Fri., April 20, 2018
It's 1964 in the American Southland, and Violet is on an Emerald-City-scope mission. Her quest is not for a heart, courage, or a brain (she has those qualities and then some), but for a new face. As a young girl, her cheek met the business end of an axe blade, and the resulting scar has been the target of jest, pity, and horror her whole life.
The irony is, while Violet's scar receives a fair amount of attention, the girl attached to it is rendered practically invisible. And Violet is a girl who aches to be seen. She boards a Greyhound bus in Spruce Pine, N.C., and makes a beeline for Tulsa, Okla., with the hope of meeting with a televangelist she believes will heal her, revealing the screen-siren beauty that Violet knows resides inside her. On the way, she befriends two young soldiers, Monty and Flick. Together, they navigate the land mines of race, class, and caste in the newly post-Jim Crow South, and Violet learns to see past other people's exteriors, which allows her to finally let someone see past hers.
A former Broadway showstopper by composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist/book writer Brian Crawley based on Doris Betts' short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim," Violet is a grand undertaking for the theatre department at St. Edward's University, and with director Nick Mayo at the helm, they have more than risen to meet the challenge. Music director Peter Stopschinski and vocal coach Adam Roberts ensure pitch-perfect performances from this ensemble of singing actors who turn in solid performance after performance. Special musical kudos go to Christina Stroup, whose vocal chops are goose-bump-inducing. The actors are no slouches either – Gio Truvillion gives Flick the perfect mix of edge and vulnerability (and has a golden voice with dance moves to match). As Monty, Jackson Pant plays a perfect foil to Flick, depicting a man too caught up in what looks good. Jarret Mallon turns in a top-notch televangelist, and David Long, as Violet's father, paints a portrait of a loving parent saddled with unimaginable grief. Amelia Long and Cassandra Valentin, as young and present-day Violet (respectively), are the twin crown jewels of this production, seamlessly presenting the same character in both formative and formed states simultaneously, which (and I shouldn't have to say this) is extremely difficult to do.
Add in Ia Ensterä's kinetic set design and the incredible ensemble work one comes to expect from St. Ed's, and you have a moving, engaging, and important story about a young woman who learns not only the nature of true beauty, but the nature of true love as well. Violet's pilgrimage carries a powerful message, and I hope Violet's story takes root in these young performers' hearts and gives them strength as they navigate a career that all too often focuses on what we look like. It's the lessons learned in Violet that will reassure them when they need it most: that beauty is so much more than skin deep, true love is about looking past the surface, our bodies are merely where we begin, and as much as we wish things about ourselves could be different, the most powerful love is the kind that makes you feel grateful for and lucky to be exactly who you are, head to toe.
VioletMary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward’s University, 3001 S. Congress, 512/448-8484
Through April 22
Running time: 1 hr., 45 min.